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BBC and Television Genres in Jeopardy

Jeremy Tunstall

This book considers British television from the point of view of executive producers: the people who employ the workforce and are in charge of making all television series. The focus of the book is twenty-one separate genres, at least seven of which are in significant decline – namely current affairs, education, natural history, science, arts, children’s and religion. Some other public service genres – such as documentary, history and travel – are in good health. The most commercially successful genres include formatted factual entertainment series, such as cooking, homes, quiz/game, reality and sport.
The author completed 150 interviews not only with executive producers but with BBC and ITV channel controllers and top genre commissioners. Playing a supporting role are another 200 interviews, which were the basis of the author’s 1993 book, Television Producers. Since 1990, and especially since 2008, British television production has faced financial challenges. Meanwhile, BSkyB, Virgin Media and Channel Five are American controlled, and most of the larger London ‘independent’ production companies are now American or Euro-American owned and operated. Public service broadcasting in general, and BBC television in particular, are threatened with probable further decline. This book offers new insights into the state of British television through the eyes of those working on the inside.
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Chapter 6: First Casualty: Current Affairs



First Casualty: Current Affairs

We’re doing 150 hours a year of BBC current affairs. Most of that is made in-house. We use a few independents but most indies are not interested in current affairs; the price bracket – £150,000 to £175,000 an hour – is too modest for most of them.    Legal issues consume much of my time. Legal firms are much more aggressive. We want to deal properly with complaints. But when a complaint is accompanied by a legal action or legal threat, it all becomes much more cumbersome … Every item has to be checked and double checked before it goes back to the lawyers each time. Everyone realises that litigation can work, can exert pressure. They’re spending more money on it. The whole thing is becoming much more legalised, from beginning to end.    We no longer see it as the audience’s duty to watch us. We have to bring them in. Today we’re doing short series of various kinds. These used to be five or six parts; now it’s usually two or three parts – journeys for BBC2, youth things for BBC3.    Online isn’t in direct competition for us – It can’t do the depth and length which we do. But online has increased the ways we can get our story out. This evening’s Panorama was on Radio 4 Today this morning, and also on BBC Online.

Clive Edwards, who had been BBC Commissioning Editor for current affairs since 2008,1 was...

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